Unions dig in heels to disrupt fuel supply in France

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s hardline CGT and FO unions toughened their stance against labour market reforms on Monday by launching a strike at oil and LNG terminals, and blockading a fuel depot in the southern port city of Marseille.

The rolling strikes, which began in March and have gathered pace in recent weeks, have disrupted fuel supplies in France since Friday with protesting workers blockading petrol depots and halting production at refineries.

French oil and gas company Total TOTF.PA, which operates five of the eight refineries in France, said it has started the process of shutting down its Normandy and Donges refineries.

It said in a statement the strikes had led to the shutdown of the Grandpuits refinery near the French capital, and its Feyzin refinery, while La Mede refinery was running at minimum output level due to a blockade.

Rival Exxon Mobil XOM.N said the strike has not affected output at its two refineries but striking workers had blockaded the oil terminal at Fos-sur-Mer in southern France.

Oil sector workers in the CGT, which is France’s biggest trade union, and at the third biggest FO, said on Monday they planned to intensify the action until the government withdraws a labour reform law, because they say it will hurt workers.

“It is clear that the dissatisfaction with the law is unwavering,” the unions said in a statement.

As part of efforts to force the government to withdraw the bill, the union launched a strike at the Fos-Lavera oil terminals on Monday.

“No ship is operating at the installations,” Pascal Galéoté, CGT Secretary General at Marseille port told Reuters.

The terminals supply PetroIneos Lavera, Total’s La Mede and Exxon’s Fos refineries on the southern coast. They also supply Total’s Feyzin; Varo’s Cressier in Switzerland and the MiRO refinery in Karlsruhe, Germany, via pipelines.

Another branch of CGT said that workers at Elengy, ENGIE.PA which operates three liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in France will also join the strike from midnight on Monday.

A similar prolonged strike at French refineries in 2010 led to a glut of crude in Europe because it could not be delivered, and a spike in refined product prices due to low output.

The French government has moved to reassure the public that France was not running out of fuel after shortages at hundreds of petrol stations in several regions sparked panic buying.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin accused CGT of holding France hostage, saying the government would take the necessary action to end the blockades and restart production at refineries.

Total said in a statement it had begun the procedure of shutting down its 247,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Normandy; 220,000 bpd Donges and 117,000 bpd Feyzin refineries. Its 101,000 bpd Grandpuits refinery was running at minimum output.

It said 678 out of its 2,200 petrol stations across France had partially or completely run out of fuel, while striking workers were blockading two out of its nine fuel depots. There are 78 primary fuel depots in mainland France.

Reporting by Bate Felix and Jean-Francois Rosnoblet; editing by David Clarke and David Evans